Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 30th, 2012

It is no use trying to be clever — we are all clever here; just try to be kind — a little kind.

Dr. F. J. Foakes Jackson

West North
Both ♠ K J 8 6
 Q 6
 K 10 8
♣ 10 8 7 3
West East
♠ Q 9 5 2
 A 10 9 7
 9 4 2
♣ A J
♠ 4
 J 8 4 3
 Q 7 5 3
♣ K Q 6 4
♠ A 10 7 3
 K 5 2
 A J 6
♣ 9 5 2
South West North East
Pass Pass Pass
1♣ Dbl. 1* Dbl.
1♠ 2 2♠ 3
3♠ All pass    



Some suit combinations are instinctive, but what your instinct tells you to do is not always right. With a trump suit of A-10-7-3 facing K-J-8-6, you can cash the king and run the jack, OR cash the ace and run the 10 to guard against 4-1 trumps in whichever hand you choose. But let's look at the full deal from last fall's nationals in Seattle to see how to apply the rules.

North-South competed to the three-level with only eight trumps (a violation of the Law of Total Tricks) when both players perhaps did a little too much. North’s decision to compete to two spades with only four trumps when facing a likely three-card holding was perhaps out of line. (North-South would have managed to collect 200 from three hearts doubled, though it is not so easy to defend with West declarer).

In three spades on a diamond lead, declarer had successfully crossed the first hurdle. Trumps were clearly 4-1, given East’s decision to compete so high facing a passed partner, so South ran the spade 10, covered all around, then ducked a club, won by West’s jack.

A passive diamond exit let declarer cash two more rounds of diamonds, then play a second club. Whatever West did, South could play to ruff a club with the spade ace and run the spade seven, finessing against the nine for nine tricks.

Incidentally, best defense would have held declarer to eight tricks in three spades if he had started trumps by leading the ace.

You could simply blast out three no-trump here, but there is a risk that you are off the whole club suit, or that your partner has a positional club stop and that game might be better played his way up. Temporize with two hearts, knowing that partner shouldn't raise to four hearts, since a simple raise would be forcing.


♠ A 10 7 3
 K 5 2
 A J 6
♣ 9 5 2
South West North East
1 Pass
1♠ Pass 2 Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Michael BeyroutiDecember 14th, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
in BWTA your recommendation is “to temporize with two hearts”. In most casual partnerships, it would be dangerous to bid two hearts at this juncture for two reasons. 1. That would imply five spades and four hearts, and 2. that would imply a weak hand; a minimum opener is expected to pass or correct to two spades. I agree that opener should bid three hearts not four, but then what?
My automatic reflex action here would have been to bid three diamonds. But here also I don’t know how the auction should proceed from there on.
Thanks for your reply, your advice is always so valuable!

jim2December 14th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

On the BWTA, I might fear “fast arrival” 4H call. Still, that could be the best spot if pard is some sort of weakish six-four. Maybe something like 1-4-6-2.

Curiously, a 4-3 four hearts may be the best spot for the third BWTA in a row! Alphonse Moyse Jr. would love it!

Jeff HDecember 14th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Michael – I was always taught that a new suit by an unpassed responder is forcing for 1 round. It does not imply a weak hand. Even with a minimum, opener is expected to bid again.

ClarksburgDecember 14th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Warning: Beginner / intermediate perspective here.
Seems to me the new suit by South is most definitely forcing. With 12 HCP, nice Diamonds and the possibility (likelihood?) that North’s Diamonds will run for 5 (or six?) tricks surely South is eyeing 3NT as per Mr. Wolff’s BWTA assessment. Is the 2H “temporizing”, or is it really unambiguously showing the Heart stop (half stop? some risk). If the Heart stop in South hand, and a Club stop (half stop) in North hand, are both at risk on opening lead, can NS really expect to decide from which side to play this? And if South just crosses his fingers on Clubs and “blasts”, doesn’t that give a 50 / 50 chance of getting a Heart lead?

Jane ADecember 14th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Sign me up for the “blast” approach to three NT. I prefer not to confuse my partner by bidding the other major because as opener, I would believe responder holds the 5/4 hand. Seems like if the other major is not bid, many times that suit is led. If the opps take the first five club tricks, then this should be with the field, or most of it, so the result won’t be too painful, and responder can apologize later. (or not!)

Question- In the bidding sequence of partner opens a minor, responder bids a spade, opener bids a NT and responder bids two hearts, can opener pass with the 12 point flat wonder and four small hearts? I was taught this was about the only sequence that opener could pass if responder is not a passed hand. Naturally, if the partnership has an agreement to keep bidding then this question does not apply to them.

Thanks, as always.

bobbywolffDecember 14th, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Hi Michael,

As usual, you touch on a practical point, often occurring, and with no obvious bridge answer.

Since I am never interested in pulling punches, especially with a simple bridge discussion, let us quickly get to the point.

From your perspective (the hand you hold), it looks and feels like, a possible 3NT game with other possibilities, 5 diamonds and 4 hearts for two, only vaguely to be considered.

While bidding 2 hearts IMO should be forcing, not like, 1 club or diamond, P, 1 spade, P, 1NT (rebid), P, 2 hearts which should be played NF and only asking for a preference in the majors.

When a minor is rebid, then there are different factors involved, causing (again my opinion) to suggest that 2 hearts could be artificial and thus forcing.

This hand represents one important reason in that we are bidding where we live and leave it up to partner to usually bid NT if he has the 4th suit (in this case, clubs) stopped.

All well and good, but, keeping in mind that bridge is not now, nor ever has been, a perfect science nor anywhere near, and the bidding is only a guide (not a god) to attempt to find the best resting place, and if possible, from the right side.

Other possibilities lie in a rebid of 2 or 3 NT depending on whether partner is aggressive or not, and a quiet, hush-hush plan would be to first bid 2 clubs (in order to attempt to stop the lead) and then NT since this hand, as mentioned before, reeks from the get go to be an exercise in playing 3NT and, unless partner shows unusual distribution, not to change our mind (a 4-4 spade fit, however, should make us do just that, but if we choose 2 clubs, that spade fit may be hard to find).

Perhaps my description should be X rated, but actually all top players have, at the very least, indulged, at one time or another, in trying to obfuscate, to put themselves in a better position to score up what looks to be in front of our face.

Everything above has advantages and disadvantages making one’s choice a delicate one which needs both common sense and thought behind it. I would say that experience is the most important single factor required.

Before I sign off, I will suggest that in order for the above to be the way to choose, partner should be inclined to raise my original major suit response with three trumps (and a ruffing value) and to only rebid 2 of the minor with a somewhat unbalanced hand and usually at least a 6 card suit rather than rebid 1NT or opting to rebid 2 of a minor with only 5 and balanced distribution.

bobbywolffDecember 14th, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes with 4-6 in the red suits, while it would be tempting to jump to 4 hearts, it probably would be more prudent to only bid 3 since partner will (should) know that you possess 4 trumps for that raise and, if partner is merely conjuring up a forcing bid, 3 hearts will usually allow the partnership to continue on instead of being stuck with only 1 contract or instead have to deal with considerable less bidding room to roam.

bobbywolffDecember 14th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hi Jeff H,

The one exception was pointed out in my message to Michael, 1 of a minor, P, 1 spade, P, 1NT, P 2 hearts is merely a correction, asking to play 2 of a major, but asking partner to show a preference, e.g. s. KJxxx, h, Qxxxx, xx, x or such.

bobbywolffDecember 14th, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your comment merely reinforces what has been said, that bridge is still just a percentage game and not even close to an exact science.

Just bid where one lives (unless for tactical reasons, which takes partner’s judgment out of the auction) and then partner’s response will start to help decide what to do next round.

Also never forget that sometimes the questionable suit is divided 4-4 (not to mention the suit being blocked by dame fortune) in the opponents hands so even with 432 opposite 65, our 9 trick game will come roaring home.

bobbywolffDecember 14th, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Hi JaneA,

Definetly should partner pass, and with an above example as a guide, partner should pass with a much better hand if he likes hearts better than spades (3 little against Ax).